Thoughts on homeschooling- Part 1

Saturday, December 17, 2011

When we started on this homeschooling journey two and a half years ago, I had no idea what home education would "look like" in our home. Being a newbie, I chose a boxed curriculum for Kindergarten, A Beka. When Year One was over, I was pleased to see Caleb learning. Math was a breeze, and he was learning to read. However, I knew that I needed to find a more challenging math program for him.

I was thrilled to discover Singapore Math. This was exactly what I was looking for- a program that focused on math concepts, not just rote computation. Caleb has thrived with this curriculum. Math was easy part. Enough said.

Moving on to Language Arts. I was not thrilled with A Beka's approach. There was a lot of repetition and not much progression. A year ago, we switched over to First Language Lessons for grammar and Writing With Ease for writing. We have enjoyed the variety in the grammar lessons, and since most of the program is oral, lessons are easy to implement. Writing With Ease has a nice, gentle approach to writing that stays away from creative writing and focuses on simply putting thoughts together succinctly. Both of these programs take very little time to implement and are very effective. We're continuing with both of them.

Last spring I decided that it was time to branch out from the 3 R's and introduce History and Science. For History, I decided to go with Story of the World Ancients because it was easy to implement and "open and go". Both of these are true, and we have enjoyed it. However, I have more to say about that in a little bit.

I also wanted to introduce Science and chose Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding, a curriculum that is very hands on and integrates all the scientific disciplines. Although it is not "open and go" and can be hard to schedule sometimes (okay maybe more than just "sometimes",) we really like this program because of its depth and breadth. Not many elementary science programs can claim that AND do it well. It's a keeper.

Now, on to the bigger picture. I learned about Charlotte Mason about this time last year. I knew vaguely of her ideas and approach to education, but admittedly, it was vague. It seemed nice, but I thought using her method in teaching at home would take A TON of time and was only for those students advanced in language arts. Frankly, with all of Caleb's (and now Madeline's) therapy, we didn't have time to do that type of challenging school load.

This summer, however, I was once again drawn to Charlotte Mason's philosophy, mainly through the Ambleside Online curriculum. There are quite a variety of subjects taught each year. However, I wasn't looking to increase our workload. I loved the "book lists" and wanted to supplement our history, science, and literature study with them. So I chose a few books from Year 1. But honestly, it's not possible to simply use these books to "supplement" your current curriculum. Why? These books are living and breathing. The result? Well, it makes you hunger for more.

Over the course of the year, we have been slowly adding in more books from Year 1. And in the next few weeks, we will be doing all of them (yes, even Shakespeare!) So, why do I feel so compelled to share this with you? Our home education program is a prime example of implementing Charlotte Mason's methods and seeing them work! In just a few short months!

Okay, so what is her philosphy, and what are her methods? I am NOT an expert. In fact, I've been doing most of my reading just recently. However, this is what I can tell you.


1. Lessons are to be short: 10-15 minutes.
2. Narration. When the child is young, they are expected to narrate, tell back what they just heard, after one reading. Yes, just one reading. The older student is expected to do written narrations that increase in frequency with age.

It sounds simple, and it really is. Lessons should be short to give the child just enough information to digest. Lessons are narrated after one reading so the child becomes engaged. It reinforces what they just learned and commits it to memory. Narration works on the habit of attention. And if you read a passage more than once, the child loses that habit.


Books should be of high quality. No "twaddle." If given candy, children will eat. The same is true for literature. Give children a healthy diet of quality books.

Reading through a particular book occurs over a long period of time. This allows the child to truly engage with the text. Read to them just a little bit whets their appetite. They come back begging for more. Oh, how this is true! Every last bit! Caleb begs for me to read more. It's take a lot of self control to say no, that we'll pick back up tomorrow. But the reaction is so worth it. Caleb will also ask me questions about our readings, days, weeks, and months later! He truly meditates on what he's learning.

Books are chosen at the level which a child understands, not the level he/she can read. This is so important. As books are read aloud to the child for the first four years (generally), they are several grade levels above that said "year" in school. By the time the child is reading their own books in Year 4, they are reading high school level books AND understanding them.

This was the main reason I steered away for so long. I thought there was no way a language delayed child could handle this kind of work load; however, I am quite wrong here! It took a little practice at first. However, several months into our CM approach, Caleb can easily follow along during all the readings. Simply amazing. So I stand here in agreement with Ms. Mason when she said that her methods were NOT just for wealthy or advanced children. Her methods work, regardless of socio-economic status or cognitive level.

In fact, her method of narration is the very reason I believe Caleb will be wrapping up his language therapy at the local elementary school sooner than expected. His progress in therapy this year has taken a major leap, which can only be attributed to the daily narration work we do at home.

So how we do plan on better implementing Ms. Mason's methods in our home? We are reducing "twaddle." I have been slowly removing TV shows from the kid's approved line-up. Books. We're cutting back on the Magic Tree House (too "light") and other cutesie-wootsie but educationallly irrelevant books.

This is also why we will be using Ambleside Online's History selections completely. Although we've enjoyed Story of the World Ancients, it's well, so light. It's not nearly as meaty as the other history books we're working through. So it's being pushed aside as a free read.

Yesterday, we began our "Fine Art Friday." I typically use Friday for easy narrations (like Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse, which is on grade level), Math review, logic, and anything else that didn't get done during the week. However, yesterday we added Hymn study, Folksong study, and Art study (we didn't get around to Composer study this time.) It was so precious to hear Caleb try to sing along. It warmed my heart.

I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to see Caleb do so well with this approach to learning. No workbooks are needed. Lessons are short, which is what we need in our therapy driven schooling. Learning happens anywhere. We've been reading on our back porch, and then I type Caleb's narrations into the iPad, all the while the birds are singing sweetly in the trees. Does it get any better? Now, I'm not advocating that all homeschoolers adhere to Charlotte Mason's methods. Different curriculums work for different families. I'm simply saying that this is what has worked for us. I have been learning so much, too. It's really great learning alongside Caleb. And that really gets at the heart of Charlotte Mason's philosophy.

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

I still have more to say on the topic of homeschooling, especially the principle above. However, I think this rambling on has been long enough. If you have stuck around for all of this, kuddos to you! So, you've learned more about Charlotte Mason than you ever cared to. Now, go enjoy the rest of your weekend!


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This blog is the place where shared our lives while waiting to bring our daughters Madeline and Havi home from China. (Our son Caleb was already home before this blog began.) It is now the place where we continue to share our life experiences, both big and little, as we try to glorify God and raise our 3 dumplings from China.

Feel free to join us as we journey through life, while I try to capture our days...

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